Before striped bass flood Weldon, N.C., next spring to spawn, these same fish will begin the first stage of their migration this month, filling North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound.
Knowing that these fish are hungry and eager to pack on weight before heading upriver, guide Jeff Onley of Elizabeth City, N.C., employs a variety of techniques, ranging from sight-fishing and vertical-jigging, casting to structure and trolling to fill his clients’ limits.
According to Onley, who runs Albemarle Fishing Charters, the recipe for success is knowing when and where to use each tactic. Since mornings and evenings are typically the times when the wind is low and the water surface is glassy, they are most conducive for spotting schools of stripers feeding on the surface, likely under birds. Under these circumstances, an angler should cruise the mouths of the sound’s tributaries — the Pasquotank, Perquimans, Little, North or outside mouth of the Roanoke River — to find birds dive bombing the baitfish left behind.
“I try to see which way the school is moving,” said Onley (252-333-6524), “then I pull up in front of them and just let them go through me. I drop the lures down to the bottom and jig them vertically, keeping it near the bottom. I use a ¾-ounce Hopkins spoon or Gator spoon. I also use an Uncle Jessie’s Lure; it’s a silver lure with two blades and a hook. You can cast lures like Rat-L-Traps and try to catch them on top, but the bigger fish seem to be near the bottom.”
Where Onley really likes a Rat-L-Trap is around the abandoned shipping piers that jut from the mouths of the rivers into the sound. These structures are baitfish magnets and provide a myriad of ambush points for striped bass. They are also the next logical choice after schooling activity dies down. Onley prefers a ¾-ounce Rat-L-Trap in blue/silver, green/silver or electric shad.
Trolling is another favorable follow-up to bird-watching, and it’s a go-to tactic when windy conditions prevent sitting still. Anglers have a couple of choices here — the stump fields or the Albemarle Sound bridge.
“Along the shorelines of swamps and outside the mouths of the rivers are good places to find stump fields,” Onley said. “I troll with the same Rat-L-Traps I use around the piers and pull them at just over idle. The best areas are in 8 to 10 feet of water.
“At the bridge, I troll around the pilings in about 20 feet of water. Because of the increased depth, I use Mann’s Stretch-20s in blue/silver or chartreuse. I also like a 1-ounce chartreuse or white bucktail with a 3-inch Berkley swimming mullet attached.”
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